U.S. measles cases hit a 17-year high in 2013 after being wiped clean from the country in 2000, thanks to a combination of religious-inspired objections and the spread of vaccine-related conspiracies. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued more uplifting news Friday in its grimly titled Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: an estimated 13.8 million people did not die from measles between 2000 and 2012 thanks to a global initiative among national infectious disease control agencies and the World Health Organization, dubbed the Measles and Rubella Initiative.
That amounts to a 78 percent decline in outbreaks of the highly infectious, vaccine-preventable and completely eradicable virus. Measles is a quickly spreading infection that starts in the lungs and erupts into a full-body rash with highly infectious body fluids. It can be fatal from pneumonia or acute encephalitis, and adults are generally more likely to succumb to the infection.
In the developed world, one to two children out of 1,000 who contract the infection die, but in developing countries that figure is as high as one in four, mainly because children in poor countries are more likely to be suffering from malnutrition when they contract the virus. Countries around the world have targeted eliminating measles completely within their borders by 2020.
The vaccine is manufactured and sold primarily by New Jersey-based Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE:MRK), Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline plc (LON:GSK), Sanofi SA (FRA:SNW) of France and the Serum Institute of India.
Looking at vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in the first month of the year offers a good snapshot – before the global map of outbreaks gets crowded. In January, 24 outbreaks of measles were reported, some on every continent, afflicting at least 336 individuals, according to data compiled here by the Council on Foreign Relations. Showing just how persistent the measles paramyxovirus is: last month it was almost the only vaccine-preventable infection to show up on the global radar. The only other vaccine-preventable infection to appear in global media reports last month was polio in war-torn Pakistan and Afghanistan. No mumps. No rubella. No whooping cough. But measles popped up worldwide.
The largest cluster of cases so far has been in the northern Philippines, where at least 80 were reported last month, mostly in children. The country stepped up its vaccination program after nearly two dozen people died of measles last year.
The second-largest outbreak last month occurred in the western Russian town of Zheleznogorsk, in Kursk Oblast, an administrative region that borders Ukraine. At least 78 children and nine adults contracted the infection. They are all linked to an evangelical Baptist church whose congregation has refused to be vaccinated.